At age 43, Paul Thomas Anderson is currently gearing up for the late 2014 release of his seventh feature film; by all accounts in the early stages of his career, PTA is already sitting pretty, designated across diverse film circles as one of the best directors of the modern age. When it comes to independent filmmakers, Anderson is the guy to emulate. His films – emotionally charged and aesthetically rich, ricocheting across generation and genre – almost seem to have had their successes written in the cinematic stars when considering that, as a seven-year-old growing up in LA suburbs, PTA jotted in a notebook: “My name is Paul Anderson. I want to be a writer, producer, special effects man. I know how to do everything and I know everything. Please hire me.”
Anderson has carried this confident childhood swagger into a career which boasts a rare totality of autonomy over his own work, even as he’s transitioned from directing his little sisters to the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Anderson’s filmmaking trajectory took him from his living room, to his high school’s lab, to the sets of music videos. Then, with a credit card and some money his parents had set aside for college, he threw all he had into first short film, Cigarettes & Coffee (1993), the success of which nabbed him an invite to the Sundance Feature Film Program. By age 24, Anderson secured his first feature film deal.
PTA reached wunderkind status with his second feature, Boogie Nights (1997), a riotous romp through the yellow-lit world of 1970s porn. Its critical and commercial acclaim granted Anderson unprecedented creative control over his next project: the power of final cut. Already a master of the swanky and textured period film, Anderson dived into the intimate messiness and quiet personal devastation of a contemporary ensemble piece. While at first glance a sharp departure from his previous work, Magnolia (1999) deals with the same basic tenant of the human experience which anchors all of Anderson’s films, regardless of thematic backdrop: loneliness, and that everyday struggle to finally, maybe, connect.
PTA has forayed into romance, comedy, action, drama – oftentimes strange and intoxicating inter-film genre blends – according to his own set of rules. His latest film, The Master (2012), both critically revered and reviled, casts an unflinching filmic eye upon American cultism. Moving right along and unbothered by backlash, Anderson is currently putting the finishing touches upon Inherent Vice, a Thomas Pynchon novel adaptation about a pothead private-eye, which ÉCU is excited to see hit screens this upcoming December.
Even as Anderson’s career has enjoyed mainstream Hollywood backing, Oscar glory and ballooning budgets, he has held onto an independent filmmaker’s grit and fortitude, remaining stubbornly, uncompromisingly and unapologetically himself. Early on, he spent a mere two days at film school, during which a New York University professor told his new students that “If anyone is here to write Terminator 2, walk out.” Bothered by the pretentiousness behind the assumption that serious film students could only write ‘serious’ films, Anderson left to pursue filmmaking on his own terms – and he has been doing so ever since.